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Friday, January 12, 2007

Jim and Wilhelm
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Traditionalist conservative Jim Kalb has a wrestle with Wilhelm Ropke's "A Humane Economy." The underknown Ropke -- one of my favorite economists -- is someone who I imagine those who resonate to the Small is Beautiful thang would enjoy getting to know. His central theme is this: "OK, a free-ish economy seems to be the goose that lays the golden egg, and economic wealth and economic growth are both Good and Important things. But the processes of the free-ish economy often seem to erode and undermine the social and environmental bases that make the free-ish economy possible in the first place. What, if anything, to do about this?" I'm not sure that all of Ropke's suggestions would translate well to the U.S.'s circumstances. But I got a lot out of accompanying his mind as he thought his way through the facts and the implications anyway. Here's an excellent Shawn Ritenour introduction to Ropke, and an equally-excellent John Zmirak essay about him. I enjoyed Zmirak's book about Ropke too. A while back, 2Blowhards did a three-part interview with Jim Kalb about traditionalist conservatism: here, here, and here. It's a terrific (and eye-opening) interview if I do say so myself. Jim is one of the best explicators imaginable. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 12, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * People develop some bizarre and amazing skills, don't they? Could this guy be the all-time master? Probably helps prevent arthritis too. Link thanks to Miss Cellania, who has a terrific knack for turning up amusing webthings. * Anne Thompson didn't find David Denby's recent movies thinkpiece too impressive. * Nate Davis (and the Missus) visit Boston's new Institute of Contemporary Art. * I've often wondered what it must be like to be a young guy in these pussywhipped, er, grrl-power days. So I found 21-year-old HughRistik's story of what it has been like for him to grow up very interesting. * Searchie takes a big step. * Jaquandor and Tosy & Cosh volunteer answers to a book-quiz that the NYT Book Review section would never run. * Fashions for those who want to dress like chic lesbians. * Cowtown Pattie recalls the roadside cafe where she spent some of her childhood. Would someone please set C. Pattie's postings to music? * The Communicatrix -- a Web 2.0 kinda girl -- has fallen hard for Clipmarks. * The best images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. * David Chute writes a beauty of a review of the new film "Children of Men." The film-reviewing world could use a lot more of David's quietly sardonic yet appreciative tone. David has also started a series of postings he's calling "Critical PC" here. James Poniewozik and David Denby get the shaft in David's first installment. * Are female bosses harder on women employees than male bosses are? (Link thanks to ALD.) * So maybe one of the better things people can do to increase their quality of life is to learn how to cook for themselves ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 12, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Socialized Pro Football
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems that the San Francisco 49ers are hoping to bail out of San Francisco and play in San Jose (if they can get a stadium built). But Senator Dianne Feinstein (a former mayor of the City) and a lot of other San Franciscans are horrified. So besides stamping her little foot, she's planning to introduce a bill that would make franchise moves more difficult -- even if the move is less than 50 miles. So says the 12 January San Jose Mercury-News sitting on the dining room table as I write. Hmm. The United State Senate might intervene (yet again) in a local matter. Thinks I: Why don't they Do The Right Thing For The Oppressed Masses and simply socialize the sport. Then we'll get to read newspaper articles such as the following: SAN FRANCISCO, October 15, 2015 -- Mayor Rembrandt Ruiz held a press conference yesterday dealing with the recent controversies involving the municipal Nationalized Football League team, the San Francisco Pacifists. He expressed "great sorrow" at learning that a woman had been passed over for the position of starting Right Tackle. "My staff contacted Coach Jackson yesterday on this injustice to inform him that I will have little choice but to bring this up at the next Board of Supervisors meeting unless he takes immediate action," said Ruiz. The Mayor also stated that he was "standing firm" on his ban on hot dogs and beer in the concession area. He indicated that he hoped the Supervisors would quickly approve his brother-in-law's catering service as next season's exclusive food and beverage contractor. "This is the farthest thing from nepotism and cronyism," said Ruiz. "There is not a speck of doubt in my mind that Sonny's firm can provide the very best environmentally-friendly quiche and wine available." Ruiz also touched on the simmering issues of Affordable Seating, costume equality for the Drag and Hetero cheerleading squads, and the long lines at the stadium's two ticket booths, where a showdown with the public employees union was feared. Each of these was "being studied" but no decisions have yet been made. Finally, the Mayor refused comment on the Pacifists' 0-6 season record and their recent 42-6 drubbing by the Boise Black Helicopters. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 12, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Buffalo, Shuffling Off
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Let me think... Yes, it was just about 50 years ago when... Splat!!! [City hits wall] When I was young, Buffalo, New York was Important. Not "major league" in the narrow sense of having a major baseball franchise, mind you, but Important nevertheless. It was the country's most populous state's second largest city -- a major manufacturing and transportation center. I first visited the Buffalo area in June, 1956. We bounced off the suburbs on our way from Detroit (via Canada) to Syracuse and points east, but I had no doubt that the place was large. And prosperous. Part of that prosperity had to do with construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway. When it was completed, the Seaway killed Buffalo. Let's look at some numbers. Because political boundaries of cities usually bear little relationship to the "economic" or "organic" city -- defined as the labor market area or the "built-up" area, I'll use Erie and Niagara counties (the Niagara Frontier region) to approximate Buffalo as an entity. The table below shows Niagara Frontier census populations (in thousands) from 1920 through 2000 plus a 2005 estimate taken from a state government Web page. Also included is the Niagara Frontier's share of the U.S. population (from 1960 on, the national population includes Alaska and Hawaii). Population share change is a simple, yet fairly reliable measure of how well an area is doing economically. Year Population % USA 1920 753.4 0.71 1930 911.7 0.74 1940 958.5 0.73 1950 1,089.2 0.72 1960 1,307.0 0.73 1970 1,349.2 0.66 1980 1,242.9 0.55 1990 1,189.3 0.48 2000 1,170.2 0.42 2005 1,147.7 0.39 As you can see, population peaked at a point near 1970 and has fallen (on a decade basis) ever since. But population share fell considerably during the 1960s -- right after the Seaway opened in 1959. Before then, the Buffalo region's population share was fairly stable, in the low seven tenths of a percent range. The Seaway took away Buffalo's rôle as a transportation center. Formerly, Great Lakes shipping on its way to the Atlantic terminated at Buffalo for trans-shipment to railroads or the state barge canal (originally the Erie Canal). I recall looking at the Buffalo harbor area in the mid-70s and seeing only a few pilings rising out of the lake where docks used to stand. Post-1959, shipping reached the Atlantic via the Seaway and the St. Lawrence River. And Buffalo's industrial heritage? During most of the first third of the 20th century it hosted Pierce-Arrow, maker of luxury automobiles along with Brunn, the custom-body builder. From around the time of the Great War until the 60s, Buffalo was an important aviation industry center; at various times Consolidated, Bell and Curtiss-Wright were based there. Nowadays -- and for the last several decades -- Buffalo has become a branch-plant town. And that's its fundamental problem. Companies headquartered in an area will tend to take good care of that area. Contrast the Niagara Frontier with the nearby Rochester area.... posted by Donald at January 11, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Hanks. Tom Hanks.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Mash-up maestros Dan Perrault and Matt Dahan come up with another slick job: Viewer-altered movie trailers: the premiere artform of the 21st century? Link thanks to Anne Thompson. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 11, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Small May Still Be Beautiful
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Going on sale soon: "Small is Still Beautiful," a book about the economist E.F. ("Small is Beautiful") Schumacher by Joseph Pearce. Here's an interview with Pearce. Martin Hodgson evaluates the impact of Schumacher here. Odd that Schumacher -- who, back in the '70s, was a hero to eco-hippies (I was fond of him myself) -- should be championed by a conservative these days, isn't it? Things go on and evolve, I guess. A preference for modesty in governance, a feeling that economies should serve people rather than vice versa, a respect for established folkways -- how to assign a single political label to this bundle of leanings? ... Oh, it's so bewilderingly Crunchy Con, isn't it? But then maybe not. And when did it all take on such a lot of earnest-Catholic (and to my mind dreary) coloring? Pearce and some co-conspirators (including the excellent Clark Stooksbury) will be blogging for a time here. Here's the Schumacher Society. Here's Schumacher's most famous piece, "Buddhist Economics." The most Schumacherian publication I know of is Orion Magazine, which regularly publishes New Urbanist (and Peak Oil) firebrand James Kunstler. Here's a recent interview with Kunstler. Given what a fan I am of Kunstler and of the New Urbanism, and given how useful I've found Rod Dreher's idea of Crunchy Cons, maybe it all makes a kind of sense ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 11, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Rightie Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Dartmouth's true-blue Jeffrey Hart has been expressing displeasure with Bushie Republicans lately. The New Criterion's James Panero tells the story. * Dennis Dale considers the case of the British ballerina who is a member of the BNP. Great line: "Her behavior, apparently racially tolerant in her personal life but willing to consider the consequences of race, ethnicity and immigration on the macrocosmic level, is common and rational." * Jim Kalb distills the last 60 years of American conservatism down into five cogent paragraphs. * Jim points out this wonderfully grouchy it's-all-coming-to-an-end piece by the late paleoconservative John Attarian. Nice line: "Barring unforeseeable developments, American conservatism will go down in history as a failure, a crass and clueless movement that never really understood its mission, nor ever grasped reality." * NZConservative muses about the way that political discourse has grown so ill-tempered even though there aren't that many differences between political parties. Shrewd insight: "Political correctness is one possible reason why politics has got so personal and abusive. Many people are afraid to say what they really think and so prefer to vent their frustrations through personal attacks rather than by explaining why they are opposed to particular policies." * Tyler Cowen thinks that a universal 401K plan might make a positive difference. * I Was A Young Republican! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 11, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Invisible Hand Is Back
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Now here's how architecture criticism ought to be written! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 10, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Enjoy some heart-stopping photos of the most dangerous roads in the world. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 10, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Diversity Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Meet -- and perhaps curse -- the woman who invented "diversity training." * Is there really a plan afoot to abolish the U.S. and replace it with a North American Union? * And why is the globalist World Bank lying about the facts and figures it uses in order to promote its globalist agenda? * Paul Theroux fondly remembers the days when the U.S. had half the population it does now. * Derb looks at multiculturalism, immigration madness, prosperity, etc, and wonders if the U.S. might not fall apart sometime soon. * In only the last five years, Spain (pop. 45 million) has taken in 4 million immigrants. According to the BBC, "immigration has become the main concern [in Spain], ahead of terrorism and unemployment." Wikipedia notes "noticeable social tensions [and] ... downward pressure on the wages of Spanish born workers ... at a time of booming residential prices and rising rents." Now who could have foreseen any of that? * Steve Sailer asks one of his patented so-sensible-they're-shocking questions: What if "diversity" doesn't make anything better? What if, in fact, diversity makes life worse? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 10, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

The NYTBR Section and Fiction 3
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another posting to continue my look at the NYTimes Book Review Section and its attitudes towards fiction. (As well as, admittedly, to document my own decline into dementia and obsessiveness. Hey, maybe I should rename this blog "Blogpostings From Underground.") Previous installments can be read here and here. I promised the other day that my next posting on the topic would concern class and literary writing. But I'm feeling the need to sketch a little something else in first. Today, let's examine how accurate my portrayal of the TBR's attitudes towards popular fiction was. * Surely MBlowhard has exaggerated the TBR's view of fiction!? Surely the TBR's editors are more open to the panorama of what's created, fiction-book-wise, than MBlowhard has made them out to be!? Surely these responsible and knowledgeable professionals can't be presenting such a warped view of things!? If anything, I may have underemphasized how narrow the TBR's point of view on the world of fiction-book-reading-and-writing is. I'm not about to do the comprehensive research that a topic like this deserves. But I did go to the trouble of digging up a semi-recent special issue of the TBR devoted entirely to fiction. (You can look at it, as well as doublecheck my facts and assertions, here.) Let's see how popular literature fared. The issue's big production number is a poll to determine The Best American Work of Fiction in the Last 25 Years, as voted-on by a long lineup of writing-world dignitaries. The winner: Toni Morrison's "Beloved." "Beloved" is of course contempo lit-fict to the max. Lit-fict 1, popular fiction zero. How about the runners-up? Now let's see ... Quel surprise! The runner-up novels are all lit-fict too. There isn't a thriller, a romance, a western (except for Cormac McCarthy's hyper-literary version of western), a cop novel, or an erotica/porn work among 'em. Humor and comedy don't make strong showings either. Lit-fict 23 (if I'm counting right), popular literature zero. In semi-fairness, the rules of the game the TBR proposed virtually guarantee this kind of outcome, don't they? Judges were each given one vote and one vote only to name the Best. That's semi-inevitably going to mean that novels making Big Pretentious Statements will win more votes than, say, novels that are amusing or entertaining, however beautiful and moving they may also be. (Then why set such rules? Why even play such a game?) All of which has got me wondering ... Those dignitaries awarded voting power ... Who were they anyway? You can learn a lot about a publication by inspecting who the editors consider to be People Worth Consulting, after all. So join me in eyeballing the list of the people the TBR polled here. Hmmm, onetwothreefourfivesixseven ... I count 125 voters. And -- onetwo, er, two, er, two -- as far as I can tell, only two of them might be said to represent the world of popular fiction. I'm familiar with most although not all of this... posted by Michael at January 10, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Chick Cars
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards-- That big, bad, macho Detroit auto industry has been chasing women for years and years. Initially, that was because wives influenced the car-buying decision of their husbands. Later -- especially by the 1950s and after when automatic transmissions came into wide use and most women learned to drive -- gals were chased because they too did the buying. Early efforts to entice women centered around exterior colors and interior fabrics and appointments. Later, car models or even brands were implicitly (and even sometimes almost explicitly) tailored for the female market. An early example was the original Nash Rambler convertible (see below). Nash Rambler, 1952. The Rambler compact was launched as a "second car" that wasn't cheap-looking. The first model released was the convertible -- normally the most expensive body style; a station wagon came out a little later. Its appeal to Baby Boom moms wanting a stylish little errand-running machine was strong enough to make the Rambler the most successful American "compact" of the early 50s. Nowadays some cars seem to be strongly associated with either male or female owners. Huge pickup trucks and SUVs suggest a male owner, for instance. And automobiles that women buy and drive? Those are called chick cars. Even some women call them chick cars, a noteworthy example being Jean Jennings while she was editor of Automobile magazine. Recently Jerry Flint found the matter of chick cars worthy of a column (click here). Flint is one of my favorite automobile industry observers, having entered that beat in 1958. For many years he was a Detroit correspondent for The New York Times and more recently he has been a columnist for Forbes magazine. Among other things, he states: Here are some other so-called feminine cars, according to car writers we interviewed: the VW New Beetle and Convertible, Mazda Miata MX-5, Hummer H2 (that is strange), Lexus SC 430, Jeep Liberty, BMW X3, Chrysler Sebring Convertible and the Subaru Forester, which, rumor has it, is favored by lesbians. And Tom and Ray Magliozzi (aka Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers of Car Talk from NPR) called the VW Passat the "ultimate chick car." Says John McElroy, host of Autoline Detroit, a TV show, "It's [a car for women], the kind of car no manly-man would be caught dead driving. It's the kind of car that would make your drinking buddies laugh out loud, right in front of your face, if you drove up in one." Nevertheless... All this is serious stuff and more than a joke. Labeling cars like this hurts business. It matters that women buy half the cars in this country, so automotive marketing people clearly need to reach this audience. "Chick car" is a derogatory term, and, apparently, men shy away from these vehicles. When half the market shies away from your product, it is trouble. I have heard rumors that Toyota may kill the Solara. Remember how some people labeled minivans as cars for "soccer moms?" That has... posted by Donald at January 10, 2007 | perma-link | (24) comments

Kodak Moment
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Good to see a big corporation having a little irreverent fun at its own expense! And what a heroic performance from that actor-guy. FWIW, I'm a fan of Kodak's digital point-and-shoot cameras. Good prices; nice pix; superb color; excellent digi-cam video (640x480 30 fps with MPEG-4 compression, which in English means that you can fit an hour of passable-quality video on a 1GB SD card); and the best-designed menus in the business. Even I can find my way around a Kodak camera's electronic innards without suffering brainstrain. They're the friendliest digicams in the biz, and for a technical numbskull like me friendly means a lot. Hey, check out the fab price on this very nice camera. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 10, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

DVD Journal: "The Conformist"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just noticed that Bernardo Bertolucci's legendary 1970 film "The Conformist" can now be obtained on DVD. (Amazon, Netflix.) This is a pleasing cultural event for two reasons. One is that for much too long the movie has been almost impossible to find, even at colleges and rep houses. So, let's indulge in a big sigh of long-time-coming relief. The other is that "The Conformist" is both a wonderful (IMHO) and an influential (objectively speaking) movie. Watching it can be a sexy, moody high; it can also make you go, "Oh! So that's where that came from!" a large number of times. An Art Deco / Freudian thriller starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Dominique Sanda, "The Conformist" has an orchestrated elegance and a flowing sumptuousness that's part Josef Von Sternberg, part Jean-Pierre Melville, and part "Pierrot Le Fou." The film's combination of fantasy and funk, politics, sex, psychology, and thrills hits many moviebuffs like a ton of bricks. Although dismissed by some as a chic Vogue layout, "The Conformist" has seemed to many others to be a culmination of the Great Tradition in movies -- a blend of high and low, and an extraordinary demonstration of the ways movies can combine many different art forms: acting, design, writing, music, dance. The film has all the overstuffed, hyper extravagance of opera while being as slick and tight as a film noir. (In fact, despite its visual opulence, it was produced for only $750,000.) It also has a three-dimensional human intensity that sets it apart from such current is-it-ironic-or-not? exercises in movie delirium as "Moulin Rouge." Here's a mini-gallery of memorable images from the movie: As far as influence goes, well, where to start? The film's brilliance entranced young American filmbuffs, and inspired '70s American directors to kick their work up a few notches. Coppola hired Vittorio Storaro, the cinematographer of "The Conformist," to shoot "Apocalypse Now" and "One From the Heart." Storaro went on to photograph such mainstream movies as "Reds" and "Bulworth" for Warren Beatty, and "Dune" for television. Paul Schrader hired production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti to art-direct "American Gigolo" and "Cat People." Laugh if you will -- they're bad movies indeed. But the Italian-GQ imagery of Richard Gere, L.A., Nastassja Kinski, and New Orleans that these films featured had an immediate impact on what Americans expect of luxury and style. Brian De Palma's over-the-top, decadent "Scarface" was designed by Scarfiotti too -- and "Scarface" continues to influence popular imagery to this day. In the art houses, current fave Wong Kar-Wai is working rhapsodic-reverie soil first turned over by "The Conformist," albeit in more nonlinear, halting ways. The influence of the film can still be seen in ads and music videos as well as in movies too; fashion magazines (and Armani-like imagery generally) have been far more influenced by "The Conformist" than vice versa. Let's just say that "The Conformist" woke a lot -- a lot -- of people up to the power of sleekness,... posted by Michael at January 9, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Are Asians the New Jews?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- 41% of Berkeley undergrads are now of Asian descent, reports Timothy Egan: Asian-Americans make up less than 5 percent of the population but typically make up 10 to 30 percent of students at the nation's best colleges: In 2005, the last year with across-the-board numbers, Asians made up 24 percent of the undergraduate population at Carnegie Mellon and at Stanford, 27 percent at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 14 percent at Yale and 13 percent at Princeton. Even so, according to Egan, their numbers on these campuses would be far higher if the schools were admitting students based purely on test scores: A study released in October by the Center for Equal Opportunity, an advocacy group opposing race-conscious admissions, showed that in 2005 Asian-Americans were admitted to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, at a much lower rate (54 percent) than black applicants (71 percent) and Hispanic applicants (79 percent) -- despite median SAT scores that were 140 points higher than Hispanics and 240 points higher than blacks. Who's being discriminated against, if anyone? And is there any way we can blame Affirmative Action? (I'm always up for blaming Affirmative Action.) As you can tell, I don't entirely know what to make of these figures, but there they are. Time to watch "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" again, I guess. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 9, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

50 Things ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's a fun list of 50 things we know now that we didn't know on Jan. 1, 2006. My favorite: "Most of us have microscopic, wormlike mites named Demodex that live in our eyelashes and have claws and a mouth." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 9, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

"Inland Empire" and TM
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Weirdo genius auteur David Lynch has a new digital-video experiment, "Inland Empire," making the rounds of the arthouses. (Haven't caught it yet myself.) Here's the official site, where you can find the film's release schedule. Wikipedia's entry on the film is informative if a little spoiler-ridden. From the trailer, "Inland Empire" looks a little "Twin Peaks," a little "Lost Highway" ... like a handheld version of what Lynch has already done a half-dozen times. Still, I may go see it anyway -- I do love Laura Dern, who I find both passionate and hilarious ... These days, Lynch sometimes seems to be more interested in Transcendental Meditation than in filmmaking. Here's his TM foundation. I notice that Lynch will soon be making TM-proselytizing appearances (with the folksinger Donovan, also a TM buff) at Lincoln Center, at the Kennedy Center, and at L.A.'s Kodak Theatre. Lynch also has a new book out discussing meditation and creativity. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 9, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

For Apple Buffs ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Apple fans can keep tabs on Steve Jobs' MacWorld keynote address here. Miracles announced so far: Apple TV and iPhone. Best, Michael UPDATE: Lots of photos of the iPhone here. A video showing the ultra-slick interface in action can be watched here.... posted by Michael at January 9, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Monday, January 8, 2007

Blogging Notes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Content from me was sparse lately. That was because we were on the road three days from Seattle to the Bay Area via the Oregon Coast and Mendocino. Coastal driving takes more miles and time than Interstate 5, but there are compensations. A big one for me is the lack of snow, something I got far too much of in the winters I spent in Upstate New York. Another nice thing about the coast in winter is the lack of traffic; it can be the proverbial zoo in summer. Moreover, the leaves are down, so you can experience more scenery. And the weather cooperated for one day and we got to see the hills, headlands and ocean set off against a blue sky. Not so nice was California Highway 1 from US 101 to the shore -- a nasty twisty stretch of less than 30 miles that required nearly an hour's drive. Blogging might be a little light next week because we'll be at Lake Tahoe for Nancy's ski week. I quit skiing a long time ago, and expect to blog if I can get a decent Internet connection. * Suave, European-savvy sophisticates we Blowhards be, it was a shock to notice that all those umlauts, carets and other accent marks we've been dropping into foreign words started turning into gibberish characters on the Web last year. I used to draft a post on WordPad, transfer it to Word to add the fancy letters and then copy 'n' paste to the blog software. Now I blog from a MacBook. So let me try an experiment (I'm drafting this in TextEdit). The next paragraph will consist of three accented letters (at least while they're on the Mac): an umlauted "a", an "e" with an upward accent and an "o" with a circumflex / caret. ä é ô Hmm. On the MacBook's Safari browser I see three capital A's with a horizontal line atop, each followed by another character; in sequence, these are: a little square with a circle filling it, a copyright symbol and an upwards accent mark like you find in French. Other browsers might yield other results. While we're on this subject, can anyone out there explain why characters suddenly got screwed up (at least when viewed on Internet Explorer and Safari)? And what can be done to restore our ability to use foreign words? (The blogging software is MovableType, version 3.2.) UPDATE: The problem is related to Unicode, readers report. Safari has a switch under View that allowed me to display the characters as originally written. My Dell is in Seattle, so I can't test Internet Explorer. So what should we Blowhards do? Some options are: Continue avoiding foreign letters Put a Unicode alert on each post containing foreign letters Put an alert on the main page suggesting readers activate / change to Unicode setting UPDATE 2: Doug Sundseth proposes a html solution that gets around putting the burden on readers.... posted by Donald at January 8, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

The NYTBR Section and Fiction 2
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lots of interesting back-and-forths in the comments on my recent posting about the NYT Book Review Section and its attitudes towards fiction. At the risk of morphing into a monomaniac, I'm going to venture a few responses. I'll spread them out over a handful of postings both for my own convenience as well as to focus discussion (if any) a bit. Up first: * A definition-thing: the term "popular literature." Perhaps I should have been more clear about this. "Popular literature" is a potentially confusing term that civilians often haven't had the chance to give much thought to. So here goes: The term "popular literature" doesn't mean that these books are popular, let alone that their authors are getting rich. There's a bit of a tendency for people, especially those who are interested in books, to picture the book-fiction world this way: "Literary fiction" is automatically worthy yet unfairly overlooked and otherwise abused by a crass and unfeeling populace, while "popular fiction" needs no support or interest, because it's created by a bunch of crude showpeople who rake in buckets of dough yet who want highbrow acclaim too. Um, no. Simple terminology problem. Let's straighten it out. The "popular" in "popular literature" is like the "popular" in "popular music." It doesn't mean "wildly successful." It doesn't mean successful or profitable, or even much-read, at all. All "popular" means here is "of the people" -- ie., "not-highbrow." It's quite possible to be a talented, industrious author of "popular novels" yet to sell fewer copies and make less money than a talented, industrious author of "literary novels" does. "Popular" doesn't automatically mean "rich," and "literary" doesn't automatically mean "overlooked." As far as money and audience-sizes go, these comparisons have to go book-by-book and author-by-author. "Popular music" isn't a bad comparison. We all know that for every Celine Dion there are thousands of gifted, hard-working entertainers who are making very little money. Similarly, for every Anne Rice who is awash in millions and stalked by rabid fans there are crowds of hard-working, gifted writers of popular fiction who you (unless you've done some serious poking-around in the field) have never heard of. The "popular music" vs. "highbrow music" comparison isn't a bad one either. We all know that most creators of "popular music" are people the rest of us are unaware of. We also know that some highbrow musicians are well-set-up in life. (And we also know that both fields are competitive, flukey, and tough ...) In other words, a singer fronting a locally-successful dance band might be doing less well for herself than a composer of atonal music who is married to a stockbroker and has landed a tenured teaching job at a university. In this not-unusual example, the "popular entertainer" is less well-off than the highbrow-art person is. What doing popular entertainment, no matter what the field, basically means is making work that the common audience finds approachable; using a language (in the large sense)... posted by Michael at January 8, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Yet Another Vienna 1900
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Try it. Link to, select Books and then the "advanced search" tool. Once there, type Vienna 1900 into the "Title" edit box and click the "Search now" button. I got 37 hits a minute ago, the top one being this . Vienna 1900: Art, Life & Culture edited by Christian Brandstatter. (German language purists should note that the second "a" in Brandstatter actually carries an umlaut. I didn't write it "Brandstaetter" because American search tools are likely to recognize only the simple "a.") I bought a copy recently, even though I already have several books on the subject. Why did I blow money on something similar to what I already have? Mostly because the book seemed well-illustrated, particularly by photographs I wasn't familiar with. It treated (briefly, admittedly) a spectrum of subjects, including: Jugendstil and Symbolism, The Secession, The Klimt Group, The Artist-Designed Dress, Furniture, The Wagner School, Theater and Cabaret, Music, Philosophy and Science, The Secret of Dreams (concerning Freud) and a number of other topics including individual artists such as Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka. Clearly the "team of Austrian and German historians, critics, and writers" (so says the jacket blurb) assembled by the editor didn't have room to do more than hint at their subjects, given the amount of space devoted to illustrations. But those hints were useful starting points for unfamiliar topics. I haven't read the entire book yet, but let me mention a couple of quibbles. One is that there was no obvious identification for the contributors aside from their names, none of which mean anything to me. My second quibble is that Marian Bisanz-Prakken, in her article on Gustav Klimt, botched his birth date, calling it 1848 rather than 1863. And why are there so many books dealing with Vienna and the period around 1900? Because there truly was a lot of important artistic and intellectual activity at that time and place. This wasn't clear for a long time so far as painting was concerned, mostly because Klimt and the others didn't neatly fit the standard art history narrative developed by champions of Modernism. As a matter of fact, I hadn't even heard of Klimt until I read Carl Schorske's Fin-de-Siecle Vienna in the early 1980s. (My excuses are (1) Klimt wasn't mentioned in my college art history course and (2) I was focused on demography and computer programming for many years.) The period centered near 1900 is pivotal for most major arts because Modernism in its various forms was emerging. True, folks tend to seize round-numbered years as focus points, but 1900 truly was one, provided that one really means the 10 or 20 years that straddle it -- one sees comparatively little about art in 1800 or 1700, for instance. Unlike Friedrich von Blowhard, I feel uncomfortable with Grand Theory so far as art is concerned. I hesitate to relate artistic trends to, say, trends on economic or religious beliefs or practices. Nevertheless, I seem... posted by Donald at January 7, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments